By Raquel Stecher
Who says old movies are boring? Not me! This year, we’re celebrating the 75th anniversary of films released in 1944. What a year for cinema. Literary adaptations, film noir, comedies, musicals, and some thoroughly enjoyable melodramas hit theaters, absolutely delighting audiences. Still in the throes of WWII, moviegoers needed an escape from the harsh realities of war and Hollywood delivered.
Below are the top 20 most rented 1944 films on DVD Netflix, plus a breakdown of five of my personal favorites and why you should watch them.
This quintessential film noir set the standards for the genre. It had all of the necessary ingredients: a voiceover, a protagonist whose actions blurred the lines between good and evil, a gumshoe, a murder, and a captivating femme fatale. Directed by Billy Wilder and based on the novella by James M. Cain, Double Indemnity is stylish, sexy, and dark. The trio of stars – Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwcyk and Edward G. Robinson – deliver powerful and memorable performances.
This film pushed boundaries in a time when movies were heavily censored by the rules of the Hays Code. Stanwyck’s blonde wig was considered over-the-top by contemporary critics, but spoke to the character’s duplicitous nature and that look has become one of the many reasons the film is so iconic. If you’re not familiar with film noir or the main players, Double Indemnity is a great place to start.
The 1940s saw filmmakers dipping into the rich resources of our collective literary history to adapt classic novels to the screen. Charlotte Bronte’s moody masterpiece “Jane Eyre” seemed ripe to be adapted to the screen. Directed by Robert Stevenson and featuring an atmospheric score by Bernard Herrmann, Jane Eyre was released in the US in 1944.
Joan Fontaine plays a mild-mannered version of Eyre and larger-than-life Orson Welles is perfectly suited to play the mysterious Rochester. Featured in the film are notable child stars Margaret O’Brien, Peggy Ann Garner, and a very young Elizabeth Taylor round out the cast. If you love period melodramas, add this one to your queue.
Vincente Minnelli’s Meet Me in St. Louis is musical movie making at its finest. It showcased why MGM was the premiere movie studio back in its hey-day. A great cast, heart-warming story, beautiful sets and costumes, infectious energy and memorable tunes make for an all-around enjoyable film.
In my opinion, Meet Me in St. Louis features some of the best songs of all time, courtesy of songwriters Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas was written for this film and became a holiday classic on its own.” I dare you to listen to The Trolley Song and Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis and not sing along. Child actress Margaret O’Brien won an Academy Award for her performance as Tootie. But the real reason to watch the film is Judy Garland, one of the great all-around talents of the 20th Century.
Directed by Vincent Sherman, Mr. Skeffington is a fascinating study of vanity, the true meaning of love, and the fleeting nature of beauty. Bette Davis stars as Fanny, a beautiful socialite sought after by many wealthy suitors. She marries Mr. Job Skeffington, played by Claude Rains, in arrangement to help out her brother. Fanny still desires to be adored by other men, even with a husband who loves her.
As the years go by, age, illness, and war overturn everything the spoiled Fanny has desperately clung to. The ending is a tearjerker and leaves me an emotional wreck every time. It’s one of the few movies that deals with the effects of aging and Davis was a fearless actress who wasn’t afraid to make herself look beautiful or ugly on screen. Both Davis and Rains were nominated for Academy Awards for their performances.
Producer David O. Selznick wanted to contribute to the war effort by making a film about life on the home front during WWII. He found inspiration from Margaret Buell Wilder’s newspaper column and book about raising teen daughters, taking in boarders, and writing letters to her husband who was off on the battlefield. The result was a 3-hour heart-wrenching drama starring Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Robert Walker, and a teenage Shirley Temple.
The film is almost like a time capsule of WWII life covering many aspects including housing shortages, war bonds, rationing, mourning the loss of soldiers, and other serious topics. This film struck a chord with audiences then and still moves viewers today.
More Films Turning 75 in 2019
Raquel Stecher has been writing about classic films for the past decade on her blog Out of the Past. She attends the TCM Classic Film Festival as well as other events where old movie fanatics get together to geek out. Raquel has been a devoted DVD Netflix member since 2002! Follow her on her blog Out of the Past or find her on Twitter @RaquelStecher and @ClassicFilmRead, Facebook, and Instagram.